After a disastrous beginning, I’ve found the person I believe to be the therapist who’s the right fit for me. There will be no pee-testing or breathalyzing. Just a good, long talk every week or two.
So I began by explaining that, since getting sober, my life has changed in so many wonderful ways. I’m learning how to live in the moment and get lost in the simple joys that life has to offer: a walk with a good friend, going to the farmer’s market early on a Saturday morning with my husband, and coffee. Lots and lots of good coffee.
But the thought of spending time with my mother makes me want to run screaming into the night. I haven’t seen her since May (I live ten minutes away from her); have only talked to her a handful of times since Mother’s Day. She is toxic to me, for reasons I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts.
So, a few sessions in, my therapist asks how I’d feel if she suggested to me that my mother is a narcissist. Mind = blown. I’d never entertained the notion, since my mother is so shame-based that if she could blend into the walls in social situations, she would. But my counselor asserted that there are many different kinds of narcissism – and that stating your own opinion as if it were fact and not allowing anyone else around you to espouse anything different is, in fact, narcissism. And she recommended a book entitled Children of the Self-Absorbed, by Nina W. Brown. I’m working my way through it and have learned that adult children of narcissists generally fall into one of two categories: compliant or defiant. I am definitely the defiant child: to me, silence is compliance. My therapist has also helped me to re-frame my mother’s rants: instead of allowing her to make me feel marginalized and judged, she suggested that these tirades are kind of like a three-year-old’s tantrums. And she asked me, “How did you handle it when your kids melted down?” I reflected and replied that I would validate their feelings and walk away. She suggested that I take a similar approach with my mom: say something like, “I know this issue is important to you. I’d like our time together to be as pleasant as possible, though. We’re never going to agree, so let’s talk about something else.” And change the subject. And to repeat as needed until she gets the message that I will be neither engaged nor enraged by what she says. This approach would be a game-changer in our relationship, I think. And the notion of saying something like this is both exhilarating and terrifying.
It’s a pretty tall order. I haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet. But I’m working toward it. And I’ll let you know how it goes!